Have Yourself A Hellish Little Christmas – Hellboy: Krampusnacht Reviewed

by Alan Stewart

Special holiday issues of comic book series are a December tradition almost as old as the comic book form itself.  So a holiday special pitting Mike Mignola’s famed monster-busting, half-demon superhero against Krampus — the fearsome figure from European folklore who accompanies St. Nicholas on his annual Christmas Eve rounds, but with the charge to torment bad children, rather than to reward good ones — seems like such an obviously great idea that I’m a bit surprised it’s taken Mignola and his publisher, Dark Horse Comics, twenty-four years to get around to it.

But hey, better late than never. Hellboy: Krampusnacht is here, and this 34-page comic teaming Mignola (as writer) with superstar artist Adam Hughes quickly proves itself well worth the wait.

[*Warning! Some light spoilers for Hellboy: Krampusnacht below!]

As the tale opens, it’s a snowy evening at Christmastime. Our hero has just set forth from a small village into a woodland just beyond, when he’s confronted by a ghostly apparition.

 

Pressing on through the woods, Hellboy soon arrives at the home of one Wilhelm Schulze, an apparently harmless, hospitable old man whom we readers, along with our hero, soon discover is (of course) much more than he seems. As Hellboy relates, Mr. Schulze recently startled the local village priest, Father Müller, by suddenly appearing in the midst of a church service and telling the priest he’s actually “this guy”, as depicted in an illustration Hellboy proffers the elderly gentleman.

To confirm his own understanding of the situation, Hellboy notes that Krampus supposedly torments naughty children so that “they’ll be good next year”. Mr. Schulze quickly disabuses him of that notion, stating that “once I’ve had my hands on them they never see another year”. Hellboy is then shown a vision of the fate of of one of Schulze/Krampus’ victims–the young owner of the toy elephant glimpsed in the story’s early pages, whose mother’s ghost there solicited the hero’s help.

 

After many long centuries, Krampus is ready to pack it in and return to Hell; and for that to happen, he needs for Hellboy–his “brother” hellspawn–to kill him. Can our hero manage to do this? If he does, will that be enough to redeem the souls of the goat-demon’s many youthful victims?

If you’re a regular, or even an occasional reader of Hellboy, you can probably imagine how things play out from here. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t some surprises before the story’s conclusion. There are, along with a couple of brief but welcome cameos by members of the series’ supporting cast.

In his full pencil-and-ink art for this issue, Adam Hughes largely eschews the “cheesecake” themes for which he’s probably best known, adapting his style to the darkness and eeriness of Hellboy’s milieu with seeming effortlessness. It’s outstanding work.

Following the the 24-page story, the special is rounded off by a “photo album” of Hellboy’s Christmas memories (also illustrated by Hughes), and a look at some of the artist’s preliminary sketches.

Hellboy: Krampusnacht is a thoroughly satisfying comic book which should appeal to any fan who can appreciate a few chills mixed in with their holiday cheer.  It arrived in shops from Dark Horse Comics on December 20th.

Also, check out Comicon.com’s interview with Adam Hughes on the creation of this comic right here!